Groups of soldiers and volunteer workers remove oil layered on Mallipo Beach in Taean, South Chungcheong Province, Sunday. Crude oil was spilled from a heavy tanker off the sea on Friday and smothered the seashore, damaging its ecological system. / Korea Times Photo by Cho Young-ho
By Bae Ji-sook
The government declared a state of emergency in the oil-contaminated western coastal zone, Sunday, making state subsidies and resources available for restoration work. This is the second time such a state has been announced, following the huge mountain fire that swept Yangyang, Gangwon Province, in 2005.
The declaration came after spilled crude oil from a heavy tanker began spreading along the western coastal area of South Chungcheong Province, which is abundant in national parks and fish farms.
Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Kang Moo-hyun said it would take at least two months to clean up the nation's largest oil spill in the waters off Taean.
Experts warned that the spill could result in a serious environmental disaster.
After an 11,800-ton barge owned by Samsung collided with a 146,000-ton Hong Kong-registered Hebei Spirit, Friday, puncturing hull, which the oil leak, the ecologically pristine coastline has become a deathtrap for wildlife, with waves of crude oil washing ashore.
About 30 beaches in the Taean area were covered by the slick, according to maritime police.
Natural Treasure No. 431, Shinduri Dune, was saturated and mallard ducks and other sea life are being found suffocated by the oil.
More than half of the 544 oyster and abalone farms in the area have reportedly lost all their stock due to the breakdown of the marine eco system, police said.
The insurance compensation is also drawing attention.
The accident could cause compensation payments of as much as 300 billion won ($330 million) from British Lloyds P&I, the insurance company for the barge, and from the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund, an intergovernmental organization that provides compensation for damage caused by oil spills from tankers, industry sources said.
About 6,650 soldiers and police with 90 vessels and six helicopters have been working to contain about 10,500 tons of oil, but could not prevent it from reaching coastal areas, police said.
The Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries initially said the leaked oil would quickly freeze in the cold winter temperatures, and since the accident took place about 10 kilometers from the shore, the environmental damage would not be as large as back in 1995, when the Sea Prince spilled 5,000 tons of crude and fuel oil on the seashore of Yeosu in South Jeolla Province.
However, due to rather warm weather, an unforeseeable wind direction and high waves, the spill expanded and is more than 33 kilometers long, the police said.
A Korean Federation for Environment Movements spokesman warned that although the oil may appear to be cleared, it could affect the eco system for much longer than expected.
``There are still spots in waters off Yeosu, where the oil spilled 12 years ago that appear in summer time. Once the oil covers the sea, you can never recover the environment,'' he said.
He said the oil may kill all marine creatures in the gulf as well as the sea shore.
The government has been under fire for having limited measures to combat the leak in the first place, which has resulted in even greater damage.
The Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry and police admitted to having not provided sufficient amount of oil absorbent material to fishermen and residents as well as not having paid enough attention to the wind direction.